June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. Then, she visited MD Anderson doctor Andrezj Kudelk for a second opinion. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.
This is a reflection on a touching experience during one of the hardest times in my life. Every spring, within 2-3 days of hanging a fern on the patio outside my bedroom, birds have built nests. One year the nest was built by a dove, and I believe it was sent by God to comfort and strengthen me during some very difficult days.
From the day I had felt this large, palpable mass on March 23, 2000, I was calm and unafraid. I wanted to have surgery, see what options were available and begin a treatment plan.
A devastating prognosis
I had surgery on April 5, 2000. The tumor mass was the size of a soccer ball. It had twisted and turned around all the organs in my pelvis, including the colon, and had moved my bladder to my right side.
Pathology findings were stage IV cancer in both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, and it had spread to the omentum and spleen. The prognosis was devastating to my family. We were told I had one year to live; two years at the most.
My first chemotherapy treatment was on May 3, 2000. On the morning of Tuesday, May 15, 2000, while taking a shower, I noticed excessive hair in my hands. I was not expecting this so soon, as I had understood it would be after the second cycle of chemo that I would lose my hair.
In two days, I was completely bald except for a few strands sparsely on the back of my head. This was overwhelming!
I was not mentally prepared to cope with the person I saw staring back at me in the mirror. This person seemed to be very old, very sick and very ugly. This was terribly depressing and I simply could not believe it happened so fast.
My brave friend
On the morning of May 23, 2000, I went into the bedroom and noticed some bird activity around a fern basket on the patio balcony. The other birds that nested in prior springs would startle and fly away if I even entered the bedroom. She didn't.
After a month of bonding with my new bird friend, my son called out to me to see the baby dove in the nest. I went out on the balcony, stood on a chair less than one foot from them, and took pictures of the dove and her baby.
The baby dove looked at me and did not move. He just stared as if he knew without reservation I would not harm him. He grew very fast and almost filled the nest in those first six days.
The uncertainty throughout these difficult days as I coped with the effect of losing my hair seemed to disappear. We laughed when my son, Mark, asked me on his way to the grocery store if I needed any shampoo.
I went to the office and tipped my hat to show off my bald head. Having had, for the most part, white hair for 30 years, it was difficult to find a wig close to my hair color. I opted instead to wear hats -- all colors, shapes and types. Hats were comfortable.
My next appointment with my oncologist was on June 13, 2000, for lab work and chemo. The lab has a test named CA-125, which gives a reading of any active cancer cells in the bloodstream and is for ovarian cancer patients. The day of my surgery the reading was 54, three weeks after surgery it was 46.9. On June 16, 2000, I learned my CA-125 had dropped to 12.9.
This was a miracle to me. I ran upstairs to look at the dove nest. It was empty. My baby dove had flown away.
The peace and inner strength that I felt during the first days of April had returned to me.
I will always believe God sent this dove to me as a sign for peace within and an omen of good things to come.